Firstly I must say thanks for reminding me about “The Machine Stops”, must get round to reading it.
For the most part you’ve pretty much echoed my interpretation of the episode. I think what I find interesting is the whole ‘non-place’ feel of the commune, it’s a place where issues of time and space are flattened in order to reduce ruptures in the running of the society. I guess you could say the world is in some sense a projection of Facebook in which the environment is mostly standardised with some non-threatening tweaks available. It’s a world in which one works (cycles) by giving up data for the privilege of using a platform which, as we have seen recently, actively tries to manipulate algorithmically how we think and feel.
Thanks, Robert! There’s something similar here to “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster - relationships are increasingly mediated through the technology that dictates the social parameters of the commune. This episode is very much about the positioning of body in relation to product: citizen as producer of energy, citizen as viewer, citizen as avatar. It seems the body itself is framed only in terms of one’s relation to technology. Bing is the exception until he accepts the judges’ offer. There is the possibility of genuine human connection we see with Bing, but the dominant trope here is human connectivity instead. It’s a trend we’re seeing now, the mediation of human interaction through technology: the positioning of conversation tends to be that of a person hunched over a screen, the Black Mirror. The episode amplifies this to the point of placing citizenship inside the screen (all walls are screens and interface, &c.). The dystopian commune is the only context known to its citizens, and the screen is a majority of their reality.
Great read! You’ve done a really good job of summing up the key motif of interpassive disavowal in 15 Million Merits here. For me another key component of the episode is how the environment looks and perhaps in turn shapes the people in the commune, one could perhaps call it ‘Applefied’. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on this? I don’t wish to lead you to an answer but I can’t help but think the smoothing out and managed nature of their physical reality also plays a role in reinforcing the status quo.
Thank you kindly, Sarah! If not a commodification of violence, a commodification of spectacle. I need to catch up to Season 2, but Season 1 seems to have a common thread throughout in how the screen functions in relation to spectacle. The example above is certainly something that is predicated on viewership and audience rather than content.
Great post Michael! Do you see this idea of the commodfication of violence as something that characterises the rest of the Black Mirror series? I think this is also something we see examined in the season 2 episode ‘White Bear’.
Thank you for your comment. I completely agree that the perception of sports is changing thanks to the public display of these types of analytic technology. Along with your really interesting examples, it seems that televised broadcasts of sporting events are constantly devising new ways of visually representing this type of data. And certainly movies like Moneyball and shows such as NFL Matchup (where ESPN talking heads analyze coaches’ tapes to preview upcoming games) have brought the technology to the forefront and glamorized it to a certain degree.
It does however seem to be unevenly applied across different sports. While NBA teams and fans have access to the SportVU information, it does not seem to have really been incorporated into the TV broadcasts. Further, I wonder if the scientific aesthetic is primarily being used now to reinforce already dominant narratives within sports (ie LeBron James is historically great or the Patriots’ Bill Belichick is the best coach in the NFL). But that said, I do think that this type of big data has already changed the visual culture of sports and will continue to do so across a wide range of new and established media.
Great example, Alex; I wonder how much the public display and circulation of such specialist technology changes the perception and the aesthetics of sports more generally: during the last World Cup soccer, the organic store in my neighborhood campaigned with a poster displaying a tactical diagram. While being much more banal (and more old-fashioned) than the SportVU, this proved to me that a more scientific/abstract aesthetic can signify sports in popular culture just as much as individual stars and ‘action’. Additionally, a newly founded, rather high brow, Dutch online newspaper, regularly features the topic of big data in soccer. Not all spectators of sports might use the new tools, but the look of sports is surely transformed by the increasing ubiquity of ‘analytics’.
Very insightful post, thanks. From European pro basketball I know that the behavior of the mascots (not the person behind it) gets discussed and sometimes reprimanded in online forums; I understood this as the characteristic attitude of sports fans who want to underline that in the end *they* define the identity of a team and not individual athletes or a mascot for that matter. I wonder how much these questions (e.g. the mascot’s attitude is not considered ‘appropriate’ for the teams identity) also play a role in the evaluation of its Twitter accounts.
You provide a very interesting (and applicable) metaphor in regards to the personal and official Twitter accounts. I think the universities have to put a lot of trust in their mascots (much more than the pre-social media era) to not put forth offensive material. I do know, however, that 21/22 year-old students are apt to mess up.
The phenomenon of dual accounts here is very interesting. Is it true that the school-sponsored social media presence functions like LinkedIn, a professional page for the mascot, whereas the personal accounts function like an informal Facebook page—loaded with personal photos and day-to-day chatter. For the humans inside the mascot costumes, is it like being named Miss America? One becomes somewhat famous and must internalize aspects of that persona and self-edit in public. Unless one has a professional publicist running things, t is very difficult to be consistently on message on social media without slipping up once in a while.